After the Bonk

bonk*:  Expression used by cyclists to describe excercise-induced low blood sugar levels; being a feeling of light-headedness and weakness in all limbs. Similar to ‘The Wall’ in running. Has fallen out of usage in recent years due to alternative meanings. — Urban Dictionary
One of the realities of life for true afficionados – whether it is books, movies, running, or some other thing that is loved – is that even at times when we aren’t engaging with the thing, we talk about the thing. For the better part of the last year, this has been the case with me and bicycling. I’ve read about cycling, I’ve talked about it and written about, I’ve participated in the Thursday night twitter meet-up called #bikeschool – but I haven’t been riding.
I’m making a concerted effort to change that, primarily because I miss the way biking makes me feel when I do it – calmer, fitter, more engaged with my community and with nature. I do love riding – even more than I love talking about riding.
April is the month that I pledge (for the past three years) to ride every day. It’s called #30DaysofBiking. Begun by friends in Minneapolis, it has become a worldwide movement with teams in cities all over the place – including Spain and Belarus**. April, at least in east-central Iowa, is also a mixed-bag of weather, which is part of the challenge of keeping to the pledge.
This year, the first three days of the month offered a cycling challenge in the form of high winds (which I gladly faced rather than the sleet I rode in last year on the #30daysofbiking kick-off ride in Minneapolis). Friday and Saturday I dutifully rode, pushing against headwinds and trying to remember the tricks of countering gusty crosswinds to remain upright on my bike.  Dressed in layers and wearing gloves against the early spring chill, I was excited to be out riding my new bike.
Sunday, April 3, was a beautiful day; sunny, with temperatures climbing into the 70s. I had social commitments early in the day, but I was itching to get out for the day’s ride. It was mid-afternoon before I managed it, but as soon as my tires hit the pavement, my spirits soared. I headed south on the trail, nodding or calling friendly greetings to the other trail-users, plentiful on such a gorgeous day. The winds were still gusty and strong, but when I set out they were manageable. And at my back.
When I last rode regularly, it was not at all unusual for me to easily ride thirty or more miles in an afternoon. My mind remembered that – overriding any signals from my body that I hadn’t stayed in shape to do that easily. So I rode and rode, loving the experience. Eventually, my brain received the message my body had been sending for a while: turn back or you’ll regret it! When I did turn around to head back into town, I was immediately struck full-face by 40-mile an hour winds. Um, yeah. The ride back was going to be a bit more difficult.
In one section of trail, surrounded on all sides by open fields, the wind threatened to sweep me right off my bike, and my bike right off the trail. Suddenly, my awesome Sunday ride had become (in my mind anyway) an epic battle between me and the elements. My knees painfully protested the degree of force necessary to crank the pedals. My mind contracted – gone were the sweet fancies that had flitted through it on the ride out. Now, my only thought was a repetitive, “Keep going.” When I allowed myself a rest stop, I rationed the water in my bottle so it would last a bit longer, even though my mouth felt bone dry. Because it was my third ride in as many days, I was sore from getting accustomed to my new saddle. My knees had commenced screaming. I considered calling a friend to come pick me up, but rejected the idea with stern self-talk. At the downhill section where speeds well over twenty miles an hour are typical even while sometimes coasting, fighting the wind I never got above 13 mph. My attention was so concentrated that I hadn’t noticed the clouds massing until it started to rain. And then, weirdly, my feet started cramping. I got off the bike and walked until the cramps subsided. Then I rode some more.
As suddenly as it had started, the feeling that I was locked in an epic battle against the weather ended. I was simply exhausted with another two miles to go before reaching home. The rain had been brief, but the wind continued unabated. My internal dialogue went silent. There was nothing to do but keep moving. And so I did.
Later, after a shower and food, my body was sore and tired. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the afternoon’s ride. When, I wondered, would I be able to get out again? How would I keep challenging myself to push my limits? I realized, with real surprise, that – miserable as I had been – I had been enjoying myself! Not the kind of enjoyment that results in warm feelings and easy laughter – not even the enjoyment I felt after riding in last year’s sleet, because that was derived in part from the camaraderie that develops when friends share difficulties. No, this brand of fun was definitely a more serious kind. I hadn’t been in any real danger – I could easily have stopped and called for assistance. But I didn’t, and the serious fun of it was exactly that. I pushed myself to do more than I thought I could. In doing so, I realized that I was capable of more.
I bonked hard that day. But what I learned was this: what I am truly capable of doing is only visible after the bonk. And that is an important lesson to keep hold of in other parts of my life. I wasn’t embarrassed that I crashed and I didn’t waste time berating myself (though I could have taken some measures to mitigate or prevent it). Instead, I was proud of myself for keeping on. Why is it so hard to generalize that experience to the other parts of life? Lord knows, I crash and burn in my personal and professional life with regularity, and sometimes it is my own fault. But why should I allow the crashes to define my sense of self-worth, when what comes afterwards is often more revealing of who I am and what I’m capable of achieving?
I think that is what “serious fun” is all about: challenging limits, not solely for the sake of doing so, but in order to learn and grow. And that’s what I’m taking with me this time, after the bonk.
*Yes, I know bonk is a word used in other contexts that are sexual in nature – try to be mature enough not to snicker about this every time I use it in the context of cycling, please!
**My friend, Patrick Stephenson, is the driving force behind this movement of “joyful cyclists” which contributes, through sponsorships, to cycling charities – check it out online!.
Advertisements

My Dedication to Dedication*

So say it like you mean it boy
Be the seed in soil
Toil and reap
Keep the spoils
The road is steep
The pavement coils…

-from “Like You Mean It” by Sims/Doomtree Records

30 Days of Biking Kick-Off Ride: taking our places for the group photo
30 Days of Biking Kick-Off Ride: taking our places for the group photo

The hissing of sand dislodged from between pavement and rubber tires. Ka-thunk (my bike hits a crack)/ka-ching (my u-lock, dangling from the handlebars, jumps and falls back into place). Ka-thunk, ka-ching. The tink-tink-tink of the computer sensor counting every revolution of my front wheel. Always the rush of wind in my ears.

For April’s 30 Days of Biking, these were the sounds of dedication.

It is never easy to commit to a daily practice, whether that practice is meditation, yoga, taking a multivitamin or getting to work on time. April, famously the cruelest of months, makes the commitment to daily cycling particularly troublesome here in Minnesota. Our weather runs the gamut: winds from breezy to tornadic; temps from temperate to freezing-ass-cold; humidity from slightly damp to deluge-level rain with a little snow and a few “icy pellets of death” thrown in. Given these factors, I am proud to say I persevered, riding my bike with a deep willingness that conquered momentary weakness.

We biked through snow...
We biked through snow…
…basked in sunshine...
…we basked in sunshine…
…we layered up for cold and wet conditions!
…we layered up for cold and wet conditions!

…This is how we pull ourselves up
Overlook luck
Run til the tank spits dust
Cuz aint no spark thats bright like us
We do what we say say what we mean …

One of the main reasons I was able to maintain my dedication to 30 Days of Biking was community. Mike’s friend, Patrick Stephenson, whose warmth and joie de vivre are contagious, led us to 30 Days. Patrick, (aka @patiomensch on Twitter), co-founder, -creator and all-around-guru of 30 Days embodies the 30 Days tagline “community of joyful cyclists”. Through 30 Days, I’ve not only had the pleasure of getting to know Patrick, but also of meeting some other interesting, diverse, and genuinely amazing members of the local cycling community. Daily social media posts kept me apprised of what everyone was doing, where they were riding, and how they were meeting the challenge of April on two wheels. Knowing I was part of something bigger than myself injected the daily commitment with both more joy and a greater sense of obligation – not to the pledge I’d taken but to myself as an extension of that community.

Soaking wet, freezing cold, and fiercely joyful?!
Soaking wet, freezing cold, and fiercely joyful?!

 

Joy is a strange concept. In some ways, I’ve always thought of it as a feeling too big to be contained in an ordinary day. And I certainly never intentionally associated it with words like commitment or dedication. But cycling, over the past few years, has taught me that they can and do align. And during this 30 Days of Biking, I’ve felt the joy of follow-through that only comes after commitment. On days when no part of me wanted to get my bike out of the garage, the ride often took on an edge of fierce joy – as if my heart recognized something my brain was slow to comprehend. Namely, that fulfilling my agreements when I am the only one who knows or cares is one way to feel really good in my own skin. Would anyone have judged me if I’d missed a day? Not at all! A joyful community is an accepting and inclusive one.

We do tend to judge ourselves harshly, though. So moments that remind us we are capable of overcoming laziness and inertia help to silence our inner critics.  We see that we can rise to meet challenges placed in our lives – whether they come to us through external forces or whether we willingly take them on in the form of 30-day challenges. It is an act of self-affirmation to put our butts where our mouths promised they would be – in this case on the saddle of my bike every day in April.

Has the world been changed because I did this? Perhaps in a small way, since my participation and minimal financial contribution add to the number of Free Bikes for Kidz being given away via 30 Days of Biking. But if I am truthful, not really. Have I been changed? I hope so. When we wish to “be the seed in soil”, we are wishing for growth. There is no growth without dedication and self-reflection. Riding a couple hundred miles in early spring offers the chance for plenty of self-reflection (once you get past the “dear lord, why am I doing this?” stage).

I have often heard that converts are the most zealous believers. In this case, as one newly converted to joyful commitment, to my “dedication to dedication”, I zealously wish the same for you!

Take it all the way
No in between
My dedication to dedication
I dedicate this to you

Easter Sunday #30DaysofBiking ride in Delmar, Iowa
Easter Sunday #30DaysofBiking ride in Delmar, Iowa

*Please note:  The title of this post and the lyrics posted throughout are from “Like You Mean It” by Sims/Doomtree. Please check out the link and listen to the whole song – Doomtree is a collective of friends who create and make music together here in Minneapolis. I discovered this song, serendipitously, on the final day of 30 Days of Biking when the link was tweeted by @Artcrank, another member of the MSP cycling community!

Learning to Love Rain

“She enjoys rain for its wetness, winter for its cold, summer for its heat. She loves rainbows as much for fading as for their brilliance. It is easy for her, she opens her heart and accepts everything.”
                          –Morgan Llewelyn

I used to be very selective about which seasons I enjoyed. Spring was too wet and muddy, summer too hot and humid. Fall was perfect and Winter was endurable. When I got active and lost weight, suddenly my experience of the seasons opened up. I began to love summer and winter, as well as autumn. I discovered that I love being outside, that my body can do a lot to regulate its internal temperature so I don’t need to be inside a climate controlled environment to feel comfortable anymore. Turns out, I don’t mind sweating that much, and braving the cold presents a challenge and a gift.

But Spring is still a difficult season, primarily because of that pesky weather condition known as RAIN. Springs in Iowa are characterized by one of two possibilities: no rain or too much rain. Last year was a spring with no rain. We moved from winter almost directly to summer, skipping the renewing season of spring. Springs with no rain are characterized by anxiety about crops (or gardens and lawns, if you live in town). And drought weighs heavily on the psyche of a state known primarily for its corn and soybean production. I remember feeling a dismay akin to loss when, on RAGBRAI last year, we rode on highways bordered on both sides by dead or stunted fields, parched and thirsty.

The dry weather continued, right through most of this winter, leading to drought forecasts for another year, with cities and counties rolling out their drought plans – water conservation being a less common concern in Iowa than in California or New Mexico, where my family have routinely practiced water austerity measures. In Iowa we are, sometimes shamefully, profligate with water.

And then the rain started. And now, instead of drought forecasts, we are listening to flood warnings (and believe me, since 2008, flood is the “F” word in these parts). In the past 24 hours, rain totals have been high, 3-5″ throughout eastern Iowa. Many people love thunderstorms, but last night when I calculated that it had been thundering and lightening for the better part of 18 hours, I was pretty much over it. As I listened to my house, dripping water from a leaky roof and down the chimney onto the hardwood floor in my living room, I couldn’t bring myself to have cheerful thoughts about the rain. I’m tired of gray skies, tired of the hemmed-in feeling of fog and clouds.

I share all of the above to make the point that, like most people, I experience weather at the practical (if selfish) level of “How does it affect me today?” I like days when the weather doesn’t adversely affect my plans. It has been a lovely gift that, in recent years, the number of days when weather doesn’t adversely affect my plans has been broadened because my tolerance has broadened. But in regard to this earth we inhabit, it is my goal to become like the woman described in the quote opening this post: “It is easy for her, she opens her heart and accepts everything.”

As another Earth Day approaches, I am taking stock of my openness to the natural world and finding pockets of resistance, like my aversion to spring and intolerance for more than incidental rain. This is important, because our cultural movement away from direct experience of the natural world, away from stewardship, has led us to a place which is dangerous for the earth itself. It is also dangerous for our spiritual survival, as well. When I set out to lose weight, I didn’t realize that what it would take was healing the emotional separations I had fostered – between my head and heart, between my body and my soul, between myself and others. And as I reflect on what it will take from me, personally, to participate in the healing of our planet, I realize that I have to heal this unnatural separation between myself and the planet we all call home.

I often go out and troll the internet for information or quotes to support the theme I’m writing about in a post. This morning, I thought I’d look for a Joanna Macy quote to end this post. Macy, an environmental activist and scholar, has been thinking deeply about these issues for a very long time. Serendipitously, I came across the paragraphs below on the first Macy-related page I clicked on. She says what I mean in a much more eloquent and complete way, and I’d like to close with her words (apologies to my friend, Martin, who hates it when I use long quotations):

“In the first movement, our infancy as a species, we felt no separation from the natural world around us. Trees, rocks, and plants surrounded us with a living presence as intimate and pulsing as our own bodies. In that primal intimacy, which anthropologists call “participation mystique,” we were as one with our world as a child in the mother’s womb.Then self-consciousness arose and gave us distance on our world. We needed that distance in order to make decisions and strategies, in order to measure, judge and to monitor our judgments. With the emergence of free-will, the fall out of the Garden of Eden, the second movement began — the lonely and heroic journey of the ego. Nowadays, yearning to reclaim a sense of wholeness, some of us tend to disparage that movement of separation from nature, but it brought us great gains for which we can be grateful. The distanced and observing eye brought us tools of science, and a priceless view of the vast, orderly intricacy of our world. The recognition of our individuality brought us trial by jury and the Bill of Rights.Now, harvesting these gains, we are ready to return. The third movement begins. Having gained distance and sophistication of perception, we can turn and recognize who we have been all along. Now it can dawn on us: we are our world knowing itself. We can relinquish our separateness. We can come home again — and participate in our world in a richer, more responsible and poignantly beautiful way than before, in our infancy.”